Life Christian Academy played with every ounce of intensity and passion it needed. Omari Maualana was as electric as he could be. But, Saint George’s was savvy. The Dragons were experienced.
And the Eagles made a few too many mistakes down the stretch to have a chance to upset third-seeded Saint George’s. The Dragons pulled away late and won, 65-57, in the Class 2B state semifinals Friday at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Dragons’ win sets up a rematch of last year’s 2B title game with two-time defending champion Kittitas, home of the state’s all-time leading scorer Brock Ravet, a Gonzaga signee.
Life Christian led 30-24 at the half, but that quickly evaporated as the Dragons went on a 7-0 to open the frame.
“We talked about at halftime coming out and being ready for their best hit,” coach Charles Simmons said. “They’re a mature group. They’ve got some seniors over there that can really play. We told them at half that they were going to play desperate and that’s exactly what they did. It allowed them to get back in the game.”
Ben Adams, of Saint George’s, and Maualana traded dazzling scores the rest of the way. Maulana finished with 25 points and eight rebounds, a day after he went for 18 and 17. Adams tallied 29.
“Omari is amazing,” Simmons said. “I’m very, very proud to be his coach. He really stepped up big for us. … That kid is special. We’re happy to have him here at Life.”
As the clock waned in the fourth quarter, the Eagles’ offense went silent. A four-minute scoreless stretch, highlighted by several turnovers, put the Eagles down 59-52 with 1:06 to go.
Life Christian had 16 turnovers on the night, leading to 20 Dragons’ points.
Maulana banked in a floater to make it 59-54 with 56 seconds left. Moments later, he hit a fallaway 3-pointer to cut the deficit to four with 41.4 ticks remaining.
The Dragons were strong from the stripe late, though, quelling any hope of an Eagle comeback.
“Just a few minor possessions, a few turnovers here and there, a ball bounces their way on a few buckets,” Simmons said. “It easily could have been a different game our way. That’s a good team. I felt like both teams were scrappy and they played hard.”
Bradley Swillie scored 11 points and hauled in eight rebounds, a behind-the-back pass to Maulana for a 3-pointer to end the first half the highlight of his night. He fouled out with 1:21 left.
Dai’shaun Nichols, too, had several highlight-reel plays in his nine-point, 14-rebound night. His most notable being a diving save of a ball destined to go out of bounds, and then finishing with a hard driving lay-in and the foul at the other end.
“The season has been amazing,” Simmons said. “We’ve got a really young group. We can start sometimes three freshmen. For them to get all the way to this point and be able to compete in the final four, that’s just a credit to them buying in.”
The Eagles will try to match their program-best third-place finish in an 11:15 a.m. meeting with Brewster, which lost to Kittitas 77-71 in an electric affair Friday.